Retro-- Getting There Is Half The Fun
I'd always loved to "play" with guns. My mother used to say that I lived for the Western movies and TV shows. Hopalong Cassidy and Red Rider were my constant companions. Why, I even had a Red Rider BB gun! I was in heaven the Christmas I got my first .22 rifle. The advantage of living in New Mexico was that I could have all the guns I wanted and the space to shoot them.
As soon as I could get a job, I started saving for my first pistol. I found an old Smith and Wesson break-top single-action revolver in .44-40 caliber in a pawn shop and I was able to buy it after only a few weeks at my job. It was badly worn and needed some repair, but I was able to restore it to usable condition by scrounging or making by hand some of the overly worn parts. The ammunition was a bit too expensive for my budget, but I discovered the joy of reloading my own cartridges, so I was able to shoot as much as I wished (which was all the time).
Fortunately for me, we lived on the outskirts of town, so I had no problem with setting up a shooting range and the noise didn't disturb any neighbors. It didn't take me long to learn that the movies had it all wrong with their quick-draw nonsense. I did some experimenting and found out that Wild Bill Hickok was right: the cross draw was faster than the straight draw from the thigh. I also found that using two hands to hold the gun while shooting was a lot more accurate than the one-handed stance, but a bit slower. Mother always said that my first true love was that old .44-40.
My love of guns led to my occupation: I became a gunsmith. Though I had been doing it for years as a hobby, as soon as I graduated from high school, I set up a formal business and got all the necessary federal and state licenses to sell and repair all types of guns. I soon got the reputation of being able to do miracles with guns and I started to get business from all over the region. I refused to do mail-order, if you couldn't stop by my shop, you could take your business elsewhere. I wanted to know and have a personal relationship with my customers. This may have cost me some income, but I was doing well enough with drop-in business.
Pistols were fun, but it also didn't take me long to learn how effective a shotgun was as a weapon of self defense. As an experiment, I modified a double-barreled 16-gauge shotgun into a pistol-like weapon. I cut the barrels off to 10 inches and replaced the stock with a pistol grip. Using #4 buckshot in this gun was like hitting a target with a machine gun. The range was very short, but any range over 50 feet with a pistol was pretty chancy, too. I rigged up a holster for this special gun and delighted in "fast drawing" my secret weapon. The only problem with this gun was that it was pretty heavy; it took a big man with a big hand to control it. Fortunately, I was both.
Enough preamble! Now to the meat of the story. I never will know how it happened, but I don't really care. I'll just tell the tale as I lived it and we'll all wonder together at the hows and whys.
I was in my shop one morning in 1957 finishing up some last minute details on a Colt .45 Peacemaker I was restoring for a valued customer when I felt a tingling sensation flood over me. The feeling lasted only a moment and I thought no more about it. I was getting tired from the close work I was doing, so I thought that I would relax by doing a little shooting at my range which was next to the shop. I strapped on my special rig for the modified shotgun and slipped on my bandoleer of ammunition and stepped out the door.
What the hell!?! This wasn't the town of Zuni that I knew and loved. The paved street was gone; it was replaced by a rutted dirt road that hardly qualified for the name. Several buildings were across the street where I expected them to be, but they were all crude adobe and only one was faced with stucco. I looked back and the buildings on my side of the street, including my shop, were all of adobe! There were no cars or trucks, but I did see a number of saddle horses and three buckboards.
In a kind of daze, I walked across the street toward a building with a sign saying "cantina" over the door. I was fluent in Spanish, so I was sure that I could find out what was going on from the bartender, no matter which language he spoke.
I went in and stopped for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the dim light. I was startled at what I saw. A large and very dirty man was holding a gun on a well dressed elderly gentleman who had his hands in the air. "I'm goin' ta kill ya, ya nigger-lovin' bastard!"
Without giving proper thought to the situation, I yelled out, "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? PUT UP YOUR GUN!"
"Shut up, you bastard!" the man snarled as he swung his gun toward me.
Still without thinking, I drew my modified shotgun and fired one barrel at the man's hand holding the gun. Fortunately for him, he was standing so close to me that the shot didn't have time to spread very much and it simply took off all of his hand and most of his forearm. He was still in profile, so none of the shot hit is body.
I yelled, "GET A DOCTOR!" as I rushed to get a tourniquet on the man's arm. Everybody just stood around, so I asked, "Why aren't you getting a doctor?"
"Cuz there ain't none in town. You know that!" said the bartender.
"Oh, yeah, I forgot. What are we going to do about this galoot?"
"I'll git the vet. He kin sew up that mess."
The bartender called to his swamper, a Negro, "Go find the vet an' tell 'im what happened. Clean up the blood an' bone when ya git back."
The elderly gentleman turned to me and said, "I must thank you for saving my life. I do believe that fool was going to shoot me. Oh, by the way, my name is Jasper Witherspoon."
"It was my pleasure to stop him, Mr. Witherspoon. My name is John Akers. Why was he attacking you?"
"The bartender commented on my accent and I told him that I was from Massachusetts. The man you shot assumed that meant I was an abolitionist. I tried to tell him differently, but he would not listen. I suppose that he was intoxicated."
The bartender, Jesse Jones, commented, "Nah, that jughead is jus' naturally mean. He wuz always lookin' fer a fight he wuz sure he could win."
In an effort to cover my ignorance, I looked around and saw a calender. June, 1857. "My God! This is crazy! What am I doing here?" I thought. "The bartender seems to know me, but I don't know him. I had better be careful or they will lock me up or chase me out of town."
Now that I had a moment, I replaced the fired shell and shoved the empty in my pocket. I looked down and discovered that I was wearing clothes of the period. I pulled some coins from my pocket and discovered they matched this era, too. I was getting more and more confused. At that moment, Witherspoon asked, "In appreciation, may I buy you a beer?"
"Sure, that sounds good. I could use something wet right now." Witherspoon dropped a nickel on the bar and received 3 cents change. With that, I was convinced that I was no longer in 1957!
I thanked Witherspoon and drank the beer. It wasn't cold, but it wasn't too bad, so I finished it without further delay. I excused myself and figured that I had better look the town over, just in case I was stuck here for a while. The vet and swamper came in as I was leaving, so the man I shot was going to get the best attention the town had to offer.
I walked down the edge of the street, since there was no sidewalk. I passed a couple of general stores on either side of a barbershop, and a livery stable on this side of the street. Across the street were a church (Catholic), another saloon, and another livery stable. My shop was just past that livery stable.
The beer was talking to me, so I went back to my place to see where I could relieve myself. I went in and found that it really didn't look like my old shop up-time in 1957. I looked around and found that behind the main shop was a store room and behind that was a small nook with a bed and a simple kitchen. I went out the back door and found a well and a privy. I was unhappy with that arrangement until I looked down the well and saw that it extended through the hardpan. That should keep the shit and piss out of the drinking water as well as I could expect in 1857. I used the outhouse and kept looking at the rest of my holding.
Back of the shop was a shed and a small corral. I looked in the shed and found a horse and tack. Damn, I was lucky that I had learned to ride when I was a kid! I went back inside to see what I had to fix for lunch.
I found some beans and some biscuits that looked like they were left over from breakfast, so I warmed the beans on the wood-burning stove and fixed some coffee. It was a good thing that I had learned to drink unsweetened black coffee, because I couldn't find any sugar and there was no place to keep milk or cream.
After lunch, I went back to the shop and looked around. I had several rifles, muskets, and shotguns for sale. I also had a selection of single and double barreled pistols, as well as two revolvers. Everything but the shotguns were cap and loose powder, but the shotguns all used the self-contained shells. I also had a selection of fighting knives, from bowies to poniards.
In the storeroom I had balls, lead bars, bullet molds, caps, and black powder. I also had shotgun shells, some of which fit my weapon, and some loose shot in various sizes. This prompted the thought of trying my weapon with a single slug; the result could be devastating.
Further searching revealed two cans of smokeless powder and my reloading apparatus, all well hidden. Well, whoever had stuck me here didn't mean for me to be helpless!
I figured that there was no time like the present to find out how well my modified shotgun worked with the contemporary ammunition. I took several shells from inventory and put them in my pocket. These shells were metal, not paper!
I saddled up and rode out from town a couple of miles where I thought I could experiment without interruption. I shot at barrel cactus for a target and found that my smokeless powder shells had more oomph, but the black powder shells were certainly adequate. However, I decided to stick with my smokeless powder as long as it held out.
I wanted to see how much the country had changed, so I took a different route back to town. I was riding along, minding my own business, when I spotted a dust plume in the distance. I hurried up toward the dust and I saw it was coming in my direction. I got closer and saw that it was a buckboard being chased by some Indians. As nearly as I could tell, the Indians appeared to be dressed in Comanche war regalia and there was a White man and woman in the buckboard. It was obvious to me that I had to do something!
I drew my shotgun and rode as fast as I could toward the buckboard. When they were nearly up to me, I stopped and waited. As soon as the Indians came within 50 yards, I fired the first shot. This got their attention! I fired the second shot and quickly reloaded. I'm not sure what I hit, but there were no fatalities. However, three of the seven horses came to an abrupt stop, pitching their riders to the ground.
The remaining four were now within killing range, so I fired both barrels. Two horses tumbled to the ground with their riders and another rider screamed in pain. I barely had time to reload before the remaining rider was on me. I jerked up the gun and shot both barrels right into his chest, which vanished in a shower of blood. His horse shied away and the battle was over.
I reloaded and turned to see the fate of the buckboard. They had stopped about 50 yards away and were now approaching me at a slow walk. Their horse must be exhausted.
The man was your stock western older man from central casting, with the white beard and mustache. But the woman wasn't stock anything! She was a beautiful blond with the perfect skin and blue eyes to sink into and float forever. Her body was perfection, or as much as I could tell under the long, high necked dress she wore. Her breasts were certainly not hidden all that well, the excitement and heat had caused her to sweat enough to plaster the bodice tightly against her, causing her shapely and generous breasts to be outlined for my viewing pleasure!
The man spoke first, "We shore are obliged, young feller. My daughter an' me would have been up shit creek ifen ye hadn't taken a hand. I'm Arthur Woods and this here is my daughter, Amy."
"I'm John Akers. I'm pleased to have been of assistance. Do you live around here?"
"No, Mr. Akers. We were chased offen our land by a cattle baron what thinks he owns as much of this world as he wants. We were headed this way by chance. Them Injuns chased us over some rough ground an' we lost the few thing we wuz carryin' durin' the chase."
"Please call me John. Why don't you come with me to Zuni. Surely, we can work out something when we get there."
"That's kind of ye, John. Lead on!"
I used a lead rope to tie the surviving horse to the buckboard and we headed for Zuni. It was impossible to carry on a conversation from my horse to the buckboard while we were moving, but I did get several wonderful smiles from Amy during the trip.
We stopped at the livery stable by my shop and sold the Indian horse for $5. I thought that was a good price, since $5 went a long way in 1857. Amy went into my shop to get out of the sun while Arthur and I went into the cantina to ask the bartender if he knew of a good place for them to stay.
We went up to the bar and I said, "Jesse Jones (damn, I suddenly knew his name), meet Arthur Woods. I met him and his daughter outside of town involved in a little discussion with some Comanche warriors."
"Pleased ta meet ye, Jesse. Call me Arthur. Yep, John, here, saved us from certain death. He done kilt seven Comanche without a scratch on him. I don't know how he done it, but I sure am glad he did!"
"Mr. Woods and his daughter are looking for a place to stay. Do you know of any empty house they could use?"
"Sure, John. Say, what's happened ta yer memory? Ya fergit that the house behind yer place is empty? Them people left a month ago fer the California gold fields. Arthur, ain't nobody else claimed it, so ya can have it ifen ya want it. Take a look at it, an' ifen ya like it, jus' move in."
"Much obliged, Jesse. We'll see you later."
We fetched Amy and went to look at the house. Amy rated it as fully adequate for their needs and was ready to move in. Enough furniture was still there that they only needed things like bed linen, dishes, and food. I gave Amy the $5 I had gotten for the horse and she and Arthur left to purchase what they needed. I had told Arthur that he could keep his horse with mine until he got his place fixed up.
Arthur got lucky while they were out shopping and found a job in the livery stable next door. The pay wasn't much, but it was enough to live on. Arthur stopped by my shop to tell me about the job and to invite me for supper. I was delighted to accept.
Things rocked along smoothly for a couple of days, but, suddenly, Jesse's slave swamper burst in with the news, "Masser John, there's trouble headed yer way. Masser Jesse says strap on yer gun an' come to his place as quick as you kin git thar."
I immediately complied. I rushed to the cantina and found Jesse confronting five very angry men. I turned to the Negro swamper and ordered, "Go fetch Masser Arthur and tell him to being his gun!"
I walked inside and asked Jesse, "Howdy, Jesse. What's the problem?"
Before Jesse could say anything, a man talking to him turned to me and said, "I'm the ramrod of the Circle T an' you must be the bastard that shot pore Butch's hand off."
"I don't know who Butch might be, but I did shoot the hand off a trouble maker a few days ago."
"I ain't gonna allow no galoot to treat my men that way."
"Just what do you propose to do?"
"I'm gonna shoot yer hand off!"
"You'll have to kill me first and I don't think you can. Now, the real question is, how many of you men do I have to fight? Just this loud mouth, or all of you?"
"Y'all stay outa this. I'll handle it by myself."
"Very well, let's go into the street. There's no point in getting blood all over Jesse's nice clean floor."
"Ya're a smart ass, ain't ya? OK, lead the way."
"And let you shoot me in the back? No way!"
"It's OK, John. I got my shotgun pointed at his kidneys. Ifen he even looks like he's goin' fer his gun, I'll blast 'im."
"Thanks, Jesse. In that case, I'll be happy to lead the way."
We went into the street and I checked the sun; it was high enough that neither one of us would have the sun in his eyes. The loud mouth walked a few yards down the street so that we were separated by about 30 feet. He turned around and said, "OK, draw when yer ready."
To get his goat, I said, "Are you sure you want me to draw first."
He shouted, "YA BASTARD! YA HAD YER CHANCE!" and went for his gun.
I whipped up my gun and blasted him with both barrels. He never had a chance. Both loads of shot hit him and threw him off balance. He fell to the dirt with a river of blood pouring out of his chest. His pistol was only about half way out of his holster. It's hard to believe just how much blood there is in a human body! I almost threw up from looking at him.
The vet, who doubled as the undertaker, came running. As he passed me, he asked, "Kin I look to ya to keep providin' me with this much business?"
I reloaded and looked toward the men standing in front of the cantina.